The woman in charge of Spain’s CNI intelligence agency, Paz Esteban, has been sacked as outrage grows over phone-hacking software used to target top politicians.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, two other ministers, and 18 Catalan separatists were confirmed targets of Pegasus spyware, which extracts data and secretly records calls.
PM’s phone hacked
Pedro Sánchez's phone was hacked twice in May 2021 with data leakage. Other key ministers were also spied upon.
Spanish defence Minister Margarita Robles, who was also targeted, said the government had decided to remove the spy chief, who has been with the CNI for almost 40 years.
"You speak of dismissal, I speak of substitution," she told reporters.
Paz (64) has run the CNI since 2019.
She will be replaced by the current Secretary of State for Defence, Esperanza Casteleiro, who has had a long career in the intelligence service.
Developers of the spyware, Israeli NSO Group, is facing legal action from companies, including Apple and Microsoft.
NSO claimed Pegasus had been intended for use against criminals and terrorists and was only made available to countries with good human-rights records.
Its use is now being investigated by the European Parliament for alleged breach of EU law.
Prominent figures targeted
Hungarian journalists have said they are being targeted, while the Polish government has also admitted using it as a surveillance tool.
Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Azerbaijan have all been linked to the spyware, which has been used to access the phones of prominent figures globally.
More than 60 Catalan separatist figures accused Spain of spying on their phones last month, following revelations by The Citizen Lab research centre in Canada. The allegations prompted the pro-independence ERC party to withdraw its support from the Socialist-led government.